In celebration of World Down Syndrome Day: simple steps to foster inclusivity

In celebration of World Down Syndrome Day: simple steps to foster inclusivity

with Melissa McLean

Today, March 21st is World Down Syndrome Day - a global awareness day advocating for the rights of people with Down syndrome.

Meet Melissa McLean, Kind Human Club member, mama of 2 and creator of the 'Inclusion is the New Black' collection. We asked her to share a little about her personal parenting journey with her daughter Emma.

Melissa McLean and her daughter, Emma

It was February, 2018. I was fifteen weeks pregnant when we got the call from our genetic specialist with our test results. At this point it had been a few weeks of tests, lots of reading and playing hurry-up-and-wait. We had had time to digest the possible outcomes, to grieve and to ready ourselves to hear “there is a 90% chance your daughter will have Down syndrome” on the other end of the phone.

Here we are, two and a half years later living our extra special life with our incredible daughter Emma, and her newborn little sister Joey. After Emma was born she was officially diagnosed with Mosaic Down syndrome, the rarest of the three different variations of Down syndrome – but I believe my advocating journey began that February afternoon the moment I hung up the phone.

We live a life full of celebratory moments. A life meant to be lived slowly, where Emma is constantly teaching us to slow down and appreciate the small things. Every day that she learns a new bit of sign language to communicate with us is like the first reciprocated sign all over again. The sun shines brighter through her eyes. She loves absolutely unconditionally. She dances like no one is watching, and I admire every bit of the way she views the world. We could all stand to be a little bit more like Emma and her peers.

Emma McLean, Melissa's daughter

From day one, it has been our mission to show the world just how wonderful Down syndrome is and to teach the people around us how to be inclusive and accepting of those who they view as different. These are some of the ways we teach inclusivity to those around us and in our home:

1) Lead by example

We are an inclusive home. Inclusion and acceptance is a learned behaviour, so we practice what we preach. These behaviours are often taught in schools, but we believe these important ideals should be taught early and in our homes. Here, everyone is welcome and the door is always open. Our children are always watching and how we parents and guardians treat those around us becomes the acceptable voice that our children hear. If you are using person first language ie. Emma has Down syndrome, as opposed to the Down syndrome girl – you are showing those around you to acknowledge the human before the condition. We use the term “typical” to describe people who are typically developing in place of more offensive terms like “normal”. The emphasis is always on the abilities and not a persons assumed limitations.

2) Encourage raising inquisitive children

As children, we are all taught not to stare or that talking to others about their cognitive delay or their use of a wheelchair is taboo, when in reality those questions are welcomed. We suggest nurturing your child’s need for information by suggesting they ask questions when they have them. As a mother to a differently-abled child I love being asked questions about Emma by those around us who are just trying to learn more about her. Keeping an open dialogue is an easy way to make your children more comfortable with people who are different than they are, and more likely to include them in the classroom or on the playground.

3) Exposure to diverse books, toys and tv shows

We make sure to maintain a diverse book collection for the girls, where all ethnicities and abilities are highlighted and given the voice as the lead character and carry that over to the tv shows they are exposed to as well. With Emma’s specific diagnosis, we also believe that having books and toys specific to Down syndrome are important so that she is represented in our home as well. A doll with Down syndrome, or books like Eli, Included by Michelle Sullivan that are about a child just like her. Showing your children that people who are different than they are deserve to have their voices and stories heard is incredibly beneficial.

4) Brand rep work

We work with small and local businesses who wish to have more inclusive and diverse media and print models. Emma has worked with brands since she was two weeks old to do product modelling, and we are very passionate about making sure Emma is given equal opportunity to participate. We believe it is very important for Emma and her peers, but also typical children to see children of all races and abilities equally represented in print, on tv shows, and in commercials.

Melissa McLean with her daughter, Emma

Making sure that everyone gets a seat at the table will ensure that Emma and her peers are getting included in the classroom, invited to the birthday parties and awarded the same opportunities as everyone around them. Will you make room at your table? Let’s come together to create a society where no one is made to feel that different means less. It starts with us, it starts with teaching our children to pull up a chair – and pull out the chair next to them.